1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 39

“They can’t wait three years? Just how much are they asking for this land?” Phillip asked.

“They tried to sell it to me for ten thousand thaler, but I’ve beaten them down to five thousand,” Casparus said smugly.

Phillip could only whistle in admiration at the audacity of the individuals. “So you’ve paid these people five thousand thaler for a bit of marshland you don’t even know exists?”

“Of course not,” Casparus protested. “I’m not stupid. Five thousand thaler is a lot of money you know. I have deposited the money with my lawyer while he checks the legal title on the land.”

Phillip did know it was a lot of money. Whoever these people were, they’d picked out their mark with care. “I think you should inform your lawyer you are no longer interested in buying the land and get your money back.”

“Why?” Casparus demanded, “I could be sued for breach of contract?”

Phillip shook his head. “I really doubt these people will want to take the matter to court.”

“You seem very sure of this,” one of Casparus’ colleagues said.

“All Herr Menius’ lawyer would have to do is insist the sellers demonstrate that they can make gold from pollen gathered on the land in question.”

“Which they can do,” Casparus said. “I’ve seen them do it.”

“But have you?” Phillip asked. “If you’d like to follow me back to my lodgings, I’m sure I can replicate what they showed you,” Phillip said.

“You can make gold from pollen?” Casparus asked.

Philip smiled. “Wait and see.”


Half a dozen people followed Phillip back to his lodgings. He dug out his portable assay furnace and some cupels, and his apothecary’s box and took it out to the inn’s courtyard, where he set everything up. By the time he was ready to start quite a crowd had gathered.

“Prepared to be amazed as I, Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, The World’s Greatest Alchemist, demonstrates to you, this day, the alchemical wonders of my magic pollen.”

That introduction caught the interest of his audience as Phillip removed a jar containing a yellowy-brown powder. He held it up so everyone could see. “This jar contains magical pollen I collected from rushes in a marsh near Augsburg in the light of the full moon of the evening of the summer solstice sixteen years ago.”

“Where is this marsh?” Casparus asked.

Phillip shook a silencing hand at Casparus. “Please don’t interrupt, Herr Menius.” Phillip paused to take a deep breath to get his thoughts back into line before continuing. “I will carefully measure out ten grains of my magic pollen and place it into a cupel.”

Phillip emptied the powder into a cupel. “To this I add some quicksilver, to give weight, as everyone knows gold is heavy while pollen is light.” He added a small spoonful of mercury to the yellow powder. “Now some sulphur, because everyone knows gold is yellow, and born of fire, just like sulphur.” Phillip smiled at his audience. It felt wonderful to have everyone waiting on his every word. He really should do this sort of demonstration more often, he thought.

“To this I shall also add a little salt, because according to Paracelsus, all matter is made up of quicksilver, sulphur, and salt.” Phillip smiled at his audience while he gently stirred the mixture. “Now we must add a special elixir, without which nothing will happen — the sacred Quinta Essentia of the Waters of Wine — the secret of which I was taught by a Jewish alchemist as a reward for saving the life of his son.” Phillip poured a couple of spoonfuls of alcohol over his mixture and continued to stir it. “I must expose my mixture to fire, for only fire can combine the ingredients to form the noble metal that is gold.”

Philip placed the cupel in his portable assay furnace and shut the door. “We must now wait for the furnace to get hot enough.”

“Are you really making gold?” a man dressed like a farm laborer asked.

“Wait and see,” Phillip said as he used a small bellows to boost the temperature of the fire in his portable furnace.

Phillip checked the progress of his sample regularly, until he was sure it was ready, he then used metal tongs to lift the red-hot cupel out of the furnace and poured the contents into a large iron kettle full of water. The water spat as the red-hot gold hit the water.

Phillip placed the still glowing cupel on the ground before fishing around in the kettle with his fingers for the gold. He collected several beads of gold, which he displayed to his audience. “Now to see how much gold we have made.”

Phillip was aware of the intense interest of the crowd, but he was enjoying the attention, so he drew the weighing of the gold out. “And there we have it, a grand total of ten grains of gold.”

“But you started with ten grains of pollen,” Casparus said.

There were murmurings of agreement from Philip’s audience. “Fancy that,” he said with a smile. He picked up his jar of “pollen”. “Of course, this isn’t really pollen. It is in fact pure gold, as I will now demonstrate.”

Phillip measured out ten grains of his gold powder into a fresh cupel and placed it in the furnace. Minutes later he was picking beads of gold out of the kettle again. And again he had ten grains of gold.

“But he didn’t use the magic elixir,” a stable hand protested loudly.

“That’s because he didn’t need it,” one of his companions said, “the powder was always gold.”

Casparus walked up to Phillip as looked at his jar of gold powder. “But it doesn’t look like gold,” he said.

“It is gold, Herr Menius. Lift the jar and notice how heavy it is,” Phillip suggested. While Casparus hefted the jar, Phillip continued speaking. “It is gold in a very fine powdery form. For some reason it lacks the sheen of larger particles of gold.”

Casparus laid down the jar of gold powder and looked at Phillip. “They lied to me. There is no magic pollen,” he said.

“I’m afraid not,” Phillip said. “But hopefully your money is safe.”

Casparus sighed and looked from Phillip to his colleagues. “Nothing could save me from making a fool of myself in front of my colleagues, but at least you have saved me five thousand thaler. For that I thank you. What is your name again?”

“Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz.”

“And where are you headed?”

“To Jena,” Phillip said. “An old friend of mine wrote that he was applying for the position of director of the university’s botanical garden.”

“You’re an old friend of Professor Werner Rolfinck?” Casparus asked.

“Who?” Phillip looked at Casparus in surprise. “No, my friend is Dr. Michael Weitnauer.”

“Then I’m sorry to have to tell you that your friend failed to get the position. Professor Rolfinck is the director of the botanical gardens.”

Phillip was taken aback for a moment. Then he shrugged. “I’ve come this far, I might as well continue on to Jena.”

“Then I must give you my direction, for I am heading there shortly,” Casparus said.

“Just as soon as he’s found a doctor to treat his piles,” one of Casparus’ colleagues called out.

Phillip could only feel sympathy for a fellow sufferer. “I have a most excellent ointment for piles,” he said.

“Every quack has an excellent cream or ointment for any ailment,” Casparus’ noisy colleague said.

Philip had to concede that point. His natural father had been one such person. “However, I have personal experience of the ability of my ointment to treat piles.” he smiled ruefully. “I suffered a bout of diarrhea, which resulted in painful hemorrhoids. I couldn’t sit down for days, until I stumbled upon a formulation which relieved the pain, and reduced the swelling.”

“I’m willing to try it,” Casparus said.

October 1630, Jena

Phillip swirled the wine in the glass and inhaled the bouquet. With a smile on his face he took a sip. Having a wine supplier as your patron had certain advantages, he thought to himself.

A knock on the door disturbed his moment of peace. With a heavy sigh Phillip put down his glass and hurried to the door of his laboratory. He opened the door to none other than his patron. “Herr Menius, how nice it is to see you,” he said. Right now he was remembering why he preferred not to have a patron — they thought they could interrupt you at any time. “How can I help you?”